Here’s Some (Slightly) Less Worrisome Covid-and-Kids News

I got a lot of feedback on my last newsletter, about how parents of children under 5 are struggling in a variety of ways with the pandemic’s current Omicron wave. Some readers felt I didn’t adequately underscore the point that statistically speaking, the risk of serious illness and death for children with Covid is very slim.

So let’s talk about that.

It’s true: Per the most recent American Academy of Pediatrics report, among the 24 states (and New York City) that provided data, “children ranged from 1.7 percent-4.3 percent of their total cumulated hospitalizations, and 0.1 percent-1.6 percent of all their child Covid-19 cases resulted in hospitalization.” And thankfully, among 46 states reporting (and New York City, Puerto Rico and Guam), only “0.00 percent-0.02 percent of all child Covid-19 cases resulted in death.”

But what’s also true is that “Covid-19 cases among U.S. children are increasing exponentially, far exceeding the peak of past waves of the pandemic,” according to that A.A.P. report. And parents can’t predict whether a child will have a more serious case before he or she is infected. Also, kids aren’t isolated on some island à la “Lord of the Flies.” They may live with more vulnerable adult relatives. They may go to schools without mask mandates and with more vulnerable teachers. They may live in a community that has a shortage of doctors and nurses.

Still, many parents I interviewed for my last newsletter said they were more concerned about endless quarantines keeping their young kids out of school or day care, and keeping them from earning money or getting their jobs done. In a piece this week, my Times colleague Amanda Hess lays her cards on the table about this reality: “I am struggling to draft this essay on my phone as my pantsless toddler — banished from day care for 10 days because someone got Covid — wages a tireless campaign to commandeer my device, hold it to his ear and say hewwo.”

I made that point toward the end of that last newsletter, but it’s worth repeating here. Parents have been left trying to make nearly impossible calculations that aren’t just about whether their kids get a little sick or really sick. (Not-altogether-unrelated P.S.A.: If you’re relying on edibles to get you through, make sure you keep them out of reach of tiny hands.)

Right now it’s not easy for policymakers, either. They often lack the tools to adequately manage this seemingly never-ending pandemic. This week, Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and the chief health officer of Indiana University, had some sage advice for public health authorities:

Let’s address two other things parents are asking me about: vaccines for the under-5 set, and a new C.D.C. study exploring a potential link between diabetes and Covid in kids.

I asked Dr. Sean O’Leary, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Colorado, when parents might be able to expect a vaccine for preschoolers, toddlers and babies. In an email, he estimated that it will take another three to five months before this age group has access to a vaccine, based on the pace of prior approvals for older children. He added:

Finally, about that C.D.C. diabetes study: If you read the C.D.C.’s tweet about the study, it sounds alarming, and certainly Twitter was aflame with upset parents. But several public health experts pointed out what one described as “severe flaws” and another said were “eye-popping” limitations, suggesting that the study should not be taken as definitive.

I asked one of those experts, Dr. Jeffrey Flier, a diabetes researcher and a former dean of Harvard Medical School, to explain the study’s possible flaws in a way that could help put parents’ minds at ease. He emailed:

I hope this gives you a bit of solace over this long weekend.

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